DHL Supply Chain and Chinese networking and mobile technology company Huawei have launched a Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) application at a car plant at Liuzhou in Guangxi.

Narrowband-IoT involves the connection of devices and services using cellular telecommunications bands.

While not naming the specific automotive manufacturer involved, DHL said the client produces cars for the domestic market in China.

“The production site receives all the different parts required to assemble the cars in a JIT [just-in-time] fashion, and DHL is part of their I2M (Inbound to Manufacturing team) with more than 1,000 operators working at their site in China,” said the logistics provider in response to questions from Automotive Logistics.

Designed to facilitate and streamline yard management for inbound-to-manufacturing logistics, and improve inbound processing time, the proof of concept will run until the end of September at a 30-dock section served by 100 DHL drivers.

By using the technology, dock availability will become available in real time, providing visibility to the dispatcher and drivers.

When a truck arrives, its driver checks in via an app on his mobile receiving a queue number and an estimated waiting time. The yard management system then automatically screens the docks for their availability, providing each driver with real-time status updates visible via the app.

The project should halve the waiting time for drivers from an average of 40 minutes.

“Delays can occur when shipments need to be handled at a different dock at the manufacturing site, [for example] when tyres arrive at the beginning of the assembly line rather than the end,” said DHL in a statement.

“It is essential trucks are directed to the right locations so docks are used efficiently and shipments are unloaded at the right places.”

Vehicle detectors are embedded with chipsets, which do not require any infrastructure investment. Additionally, data is transmitted using existing public base stations, which have been upgraded to support NB-IoT.

Huawei and a telecoms operator, China Mobile, provided most of the assets required to set up the proof of concept, including the installation of the NB-IoT network, the sensors, as well as developing the application (web and mobile) that has been rolled out to the control tower and the truck drivers. DHL also made a limited investment in the project.

"In leveraging Huawei's and China Mobile's NB-IoT technology, we were able to design and develop this unique solution. Supported by a range of industrial, multimedia IoT protocols and interfaces, it offers connectivity, smart operations and device management functions," said Yin Zou, CEO, DHL Supply Chain Greater China.

It is the first time DHL is using NB-IoT technology to support the overall yard management.

The proof of concept will continue until the end of September and is expected to be enhanced with additional features such as automatic number plate recognition and geofencing.

“We are also in negotiations with several other existing and potential customers to implement this technology into their operations,” DHL told Automotive Logistics.